Time To Get Into Film


See. Think. Make. Imagine.

It may be too late for Christmas, but one of the best professional development offers for teachers in the UK at the moment comes absolutely free, and it will still be available in the New Year. Into Film‘s recently expanded catalogue of teacher training covers all ages and stages, from nursery education to media studies, from beginners to seasoned film critics. I have written often on the blog about the potential of film (and specifically short films) to impact on literacy development in young people, and how, very often, it is only the teacher’s fear of what they regard as a lack of specialist subject knowledge that holds them back from using it more often. Now the solution is to hand.

Intofilm-cpd-brochure-v2 (1)


“Film is a powerful tool to engage young people, capture their imaginations and bring the written word to life. Our programme places film at the heart of education to engage and challenge students and bring texts to life. Our training demonstrates the benefits of using film as text to develop learners’ critical thinking, analytical and contextualisation skills. These skills are equally applicable to and transferable between film and literary texts. As film is both visual and auditory, learners develop skills of description, deduction and inference, as well as the ability to decode texts and translate images and sound into words.”

Into Film website

cinemaRecently I spent a couple of days working with fellow Into Film CPD providers on the new resources at the London Connected Learning Centre in Lambeth, and I have to say I came away truly inspired. Whether you are looking to use practical filmmaking to develop creative skills, to deliver aspects of the curriculum through the medium of film, or to develop a better understanding of the language and grammar of film itself, there really is something here for everyone.

 “The CPD session last month was extremely beneficial to me from both a teaching and learning perspective. I have already started implementing some of the videos into my own teaching practice…It genuinely was one of the most useful and practical courses I have been on for a very long time.”

Daniel Cooper, Assistant Head, Ysgol Park Waundew



*Accessing the Into Film CPD is very simple. Generally speaking there should be a minimum of 15 trainees in a group, though exceptions can be made for those in small schools or more rural areas. Senior Leadership Teams, Heads of Department, Youth and Community group leaders, library staff, and local authorities can book free bespoke training events, with sessions ranging in length from 30 minutes to a full day. Literacy CPD and Filmmaking CPD strands may be delivered separately or as a complete package, and an Into Film CPD Practitioner will work with your event organiser to customise a session or sessions which are appropriate to the immediate needs of the group.If you are an individual teacher who would like to attend Into Film CPD training, but are unable to convince enough of your colleagues at this stage, you should visit http://www.intofilm.org/cpd-events where you will find a growing number of centrally-organised events taking place across the UK.

Why Not Start A Film Club?


Into Film will also support teachers who want to set up and run film clubs in their own schools. To ensure that children and young people get the best educational and social experience from their clubs, Into Film also provide film club leaders with comprehensive training and support. Leaders are introduced to Into Film’s expertly curated film catalogue, then given advice and support on programming films which are appropriate for audience and purpose. Additional advice and resources are available should schools wish to develop filmmaking as part of their offering to young learners.


*If you are in the South or South-West of Scotland, and wish to have free Film Literacy training in your school or local authority, please feel free to contact me directly. Contact details can be found at the top of the blog under ‘About’ or use the Comments section of this blogpost and I will contact you.

Related Posts:-

Film Shorts as Literacy Texts

Literacy, Film and the Scottish Survey

Ten Tools For Reading Film

The Connected Educator

One of the basic principles of the Scottish curriculum is the concept of the ‘learner’ at the centre’ or the learner as responsible citizen, reflected in the curriculum outcomes which consist of a series of statements beginning, ‘I can……’  The attraction of this format is that it shifts the emphasis from teaching to learning, and places the responsibility for learning exactly where it should be – with the learner. Supporters of the new curriculum, and I am one, have argued that its values, principles and purposes could apply equally well to teachers as to students, which is one of the central themes of a new book from American educators Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.

I wonder how much longer it will be necessary to preface any educational discourse with a statement about how dramatically the world has changed since the turn of the century, but in case there is still any doubt, the authors of The Connected Educator – Learning and Leading in a Digital Age, reflecting the words and thoughts of  Sir Ken Robinson, lay it clearly and eloquently on the line:

“Producing a skilled workforce in the past required standardization that was easily replicable across classrooms – a need for predictable curriculum and methods. Drill and practice may have prepared a generation of factory workers, but it will not educate learners for tomorrow’s world of work. Schools have habitually prepared students for life by making them dependent on others to teach them, rather than placing power over learning into the learner’s hands. Classrooms that operate like connected learning communities- where students do meaningful work related to service learning and social justice – prepare students for their futures, not ours.”

At the heart of The Connected Educator is an irresistible argument for a new model of professional development to fit the modern-day classroom, one where educators are learners first and teachers second. Connected learners take responsibility for their own professional development. They figure out what they need to learn and then collaborate with others to construct the knowledge they need. Instead of waiting for professional learning to be organized and delivered to them, connected learners contribute, interact, share ideas, and reflect. The ‘connected learning community’ model advances a three-pronged approach to professional development:

Local community: Purposeful, face-to-face connections among members of a committed group – a professional learning community (PLC).

Global network: Individually chosen, online connections with a diverse collection of people and resources from around the world – a personal learning network (PLN).

Bounded community: A committed, collective, and often global group of individuals who have overlapping interests and recognise a need for connections that go deeper than the professional learning community or the personal learning network can provide – a community of practice or inquiry (CoP).

*The main difference between personal learning networks and personal learning communities is that the work of professional learning communities is designed around the specific, identified needs of the school and its students while personal learning networks are something that educators design for themselves to further their short-term and long-term goals for professional growth and personal learning. While each can benefit from the other, they are distinctly different. Communities of practice, on the other hand, are made up of people with a common interest, who collaborate to learn to do it better. By way of illustration, the authors offer the examples of a group of diet enthusiasts experimenting with eliminating grains from recipes without reducing taste, programmers working on an open-source computer application, nurses seeking to reduce errors in hospitals, or educators working to promote writing across the curriculum.

This book will challenge many of your assumptions about learning and about classroom practice. It will make many teachers, young and old, feel uncomfortable for a while as they are asked to ‘unlearn’ much of what would have been taken for granted in the pre-internet era. To take just one example, the  following extracts from the text would make an ideal starter for a lively discussion at any staff gathering. Consider especially, each of the statements listed in the second paragraph:

“Connected learning is a process of learning, unlearning, and then relearning as we participate in networks and communities. A fast-changing world creates a need to unlearn tacit knowledge (Brown, 2001). Unlearning is necessary, although it is often difficult and painful because it involves grieving for what we leave behind………….

Yet in most schools, still, the assumptions are that learning is an individual process, that learning has a beginning and an end, that learning happens in schools separately from the rest of life’s activities, and that learning is the result of teaching. Technology is beginning to shift those assumptions and change the way, we, as educators, learn.”

Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter Hall draw on their own extensive experience to provide solid practical advice on how to go about creating that all-important connected learning community. A whole chapter devoted to finding and using the best online tools for the job, invaluable especially for digital ‘newbies’, comes with the caution that what matters above all else is the building of personal relationships, and leads to my favourite line from the book:

“Contrary to what many techno-enthusiasts believe, he who has the most tools does not win.”

Having challenged us to examine our current practice, a key message of The Connected Educator is that educators (the term ‘teacher’ is avoided, something which will challenge many in itself), as well as taking responsibility for their own learning, ought to think of themselves more often and take the time to build their own networks, a task which the authors admit takes ‘time, effort, and perseverance’. Ultimately though, the tone of the book  is overwhelmingly optimistic and, far from being a threat to teachers or another dull ‘handbook’, it is an encyclopedia of useful information, inspirational in its themes, and infinite in its reach:

“As you start to think about change in technology and education, do not change anything about how you teach or lead. Instead, change everything about how you learn. Be selfish for a time, and make everything about you and your learning. By becoming a learner first and educator second, you are serving your students and will be in a better position to model lifelong adaptive learning strategies for your students. You can’t give what you do not own.”

TeachMeet Ayr

Last week I had the honour of chairing the first ever TeachMeet Ayrshire, on the campus of UWS (University of the West of Scotland) in beautiful Craigie Park. It was only the second TM I had ever attended, but as we approach the fifth anniversay of the first ever event from an original idea of Ewan McIntosh, the appetite for such meetings shows no sign of diminishing. A capacity crowd packed into a computer lab in the former Craigie College – soon to be abandoned in favour of a state-of-the-art building on the banks of the River Ayr – and they were joined by many others who couldn’t be there in person, via the live video stream. Topics ranged from ‘Geocaching In and Out of the Classroom’ to ‘How to Motivate the Demotivated’ with a strong emphasis on active and outdoor learning. Discussion was lively and animated, the emphasis very much on the fun of learning. Especially pleasing was the wide demographic of the audience as well as the presenters, from students and newly-qualified teachers to those with many years of experience behind them, representing primary, secondary,  further and higher education, youth work and outdoor education.

For teachers and others who are unfamiliar with TeachMeet, it is a structured but informal gathering of teachers, coming together to share ideas and classroom practice; teachmeets often take place alongside more formal conferences as ‘fringe’ events, are slightly anarchic in nature, and encourage the belief that the best professional development for teachers comes from listening and talking to fellow professionals. Originally the emphasis was on the innovative use of technology, but increasingly the discussion is about general pedagogy. Participants may volunteer beforehand to make a standard 7-minute presentation or a 2-minute nano-presentation, and presenters are chosen randomly during the event, meaning that there is no guarantee that anyone will ‘make the cut’, no matter who they are or what their background is. TeachMeet is not about being lectured to by experts, and therein lies its main attraction.

Let Tim and Moby of BrainPop explain it better than I do!

The Lewis Chessmen

Storm clouds roll in across Lerwick Harbour

This time last week I was in Shetland on the final leg of the Discovery Film Festival Road Show, presenting a CPD session on Moving Image Education with a number of local teachers, and preparing to brace myself against the hurricane-force winds which were about to batter the islands later that night. The weather was so severe in fact that a number of children who were due to come from the neighbouring Bressay to our screening of The Secret of Kells on Friday morning were unable to come when their small ferry was cancelled.

Some of the famous Lewis Chessmen

Despite the weather we had a great time, and I also took the opportunity to have a look around the Lewis Chessmen Unmasked exhibition which is currently in the Shetland Museum until the end of March when, appropriately, it moves on to Stornoway on Lewis.  One of the most significant and iconic archaological finds ever in Scotland, the beautifully crafted chess pieces were carved from walrus tusks and whale teeth, probably in or around Trondheim in Norway in the 12th Century. How they came to be lost and subsequently re-found on the west coast of Lewis, and what has happened to them since, is as good a real-life detective story as you will find anywhere. The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked website is also beautifully crafted and has loads of great activities for children and teachers. Go there and immerse yourself in the story now.

Read more from me on The Lewis Chessmen here.

Watch a trailer for the beautiful animation The Secret of Kells and find some excellent classroom activities here.

You can buy a replica set of the Lewis Chessman here.

Discovering the Western Isles

The Literacy Adviser is currently on tour to Skye, Lewis and Shetland with the Discovery Film Festival road show. We are screening some fantastic short films from around the world for young audiences, as well as public screenings for all ages, and tailored CPD sessions for primary and secondary teachers at each of the venues. The venture is aimed at raising awareness of the range of short films  available (emphasis on SHORT which is the key to using films successfully),  and demonstrating the ways in which film texts can be used in the classroom to develop literacy skills using a medium which is familiar and engaging. On a slightly different but related note, plans are well under way to include moving image texts in the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy from 2012. I have been working with the assessment team at SQA and a great bunch of highly committed teachers on that front and I hope to be blogging about it very soon. Watch this space!

Multiple Intelligence Re-Visited

One of my favourite modern-day educational thinkers is Howard Gardner, whose Theory of Multiple Intelligences changed the approach of many teachers in the last decade or so of the twentieth century. The notion that instead of asking ‘how smart are you?’ we should be asking ‘how are you smart?’ arrived, for me, like a bolt of lightning, simultaneously lighting up the way forward for learning, teaching, schools and education, and blowing away the myth that the only way to learn was by reading from a book or listening to an expert, and that the only way to prove your learning was through a written test.

Gardner’s reputation suffered somewhat when a minority of over-zealous teachers misunderstood what he was advocating, started labelling children according to their ‘preferred learning style’ (sometimes putting them in long-term groups with like-minded children) and trying to cater for the various learning styles simultaneously in every lesson, thereby driving themselves, and presumably the young people, to distraction. What Gardner was actually suggesting was that teachers take into account the fact that learners are individuals, and that learning is more effective when the differences between individuals are taken into account, rather than denied. Nor was he suggesting that it is possible for an individual to learn in only one way. Here he is, in his own words, from Intelligence Reframed – Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, published in 1999:-

“…..whether or not staff members have ever heard of MI theory, I would happily send my children to a school that takes differences among children seriously, that shares knowledge about differences with children and parents, that encourages children to assume responsibility for their own learning, and that presents materials in such a way that each child has the maximum opportunity to master those materials and to show others and themselves what they have learned and understood.”

Fortunately, Edutopia have recently revisited their 1997 interview with the Harvard University professor, along with a full transcript of the talk. Recommended professional development for all teachers, new or otherwise


Storytyne Gateshead

For me, narrative is at the heart of learning, so you can guess how delighted I was to be part of the Storytyne Conference in Gateshead on Friday. Organised by the irrepressible Steve Bunce (@stevebunce), Regional Manager of Vital in the North East, the event was headlined by the amazing Tim Rylands, aided and abetted by his lovely partner Sarah (@sarahneild). If there’s anyone out there promoting literacy for young people in more exciting and innovative ways than this couple, I’d like to meet them. It also gave me the opportunity to meet and hear a number of people I had only met previously on Twitter, including Bill Lord (@Joga5), who certainly didn’t disappoint. A great storyteller himself, Bill shared with us some of his work as a Primary Literacy Adviser, which he does with such enthusiasm that he has been known to dress up as Burglar Bill to take part in a webcast with kids from various schools. Both Tim and Bill have blogged at length about Friday’s event. Read their accounts of the day’s events here and here.

For my own part, it gave me the opportunity to introduce a whole new group of teachers to the joys of Inanimate Alice, the digital novel which I have spoken about previously in the blog. Breaking my own rules on PowerPoint, where I would normally focus on images and very few words, this time I put together a few slides consisting of some powerful quotes – gathered mainly from the Inanimate Alice website – which represent a small sample from teachers around the world. If you follow the links on the last slide you will find some interesting resources as well as some lesson plans and case studies. You can also catch up with Alice and friends on Twitter and Facebook.

In the final session of the day, Tim and Sarah rattled through some of the many free Web tools which are available to help teachers and young people develop their language skills. I will be reviewing some of these in the weeks to come, but if you can’t wait to find out what they are you can find links to all of them here. This list was created using Linkbunch, another handy little tool I hadn’t heard of before. As if that wasn’t enough, delegates left with a handful of goodies, including the very useful Thinking Dice, and they were even invited to take away their own ‘storychairs’.

In a very full and busy day, some of the key messages for teachers:

  • Storytelling is a vital part of learning. Do everything you can to encourage young people to tell their stories.
  • Think carefully about how you construct your own learning and teaching narratives.
  • Don’t be limited by outdated definitions of ‘text’.
  • There are no reluctant readers, only the wrong books.
  • There is a plethora of free online tools available to help you (and the kids) make exciting narratives, but it isn’t about technology. Talking and listening to stories, exploring, thinking critically, and creating, are what really matters.
  • Start with what they know. Young people who think that their stories are not worth telling, are wrong.
  • You can’t write about what you haven’t experienced. Immerse young people in experiences before asking them to write.
  • Visit other worlds, real and virtual. Put them in situations and ask them to record what they see, feel, hear, smell. Take time to look around.  One of my favourite quotes from Tim’s presentation: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there!’
  • Stories are not just about fantasy and make-believe. Information is communicated via stories too.

Thanks again to all of those who were involved and to the organisers, especially Steve Bunce, for a truly magical day. I hear a rumour that a storytelling roadshow may be in the pipeline, but like those subtly dropped hints about Christmas presents past, I don’t want to think about it too much in case it doesn’t happen.